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Chateau Brady : Landmarks: The house where TV's famous family lived out the early '70s still draws fans to Studio City. Today marks the 25th anniversary of series' start.

September 26, 1994|DAVID E. BRADY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On this day 25 years ago, the lovely lady married the man named Brady and one of America's grooviest sitcom families--"The Brady Bunch"--was born.

Dismissed by critics during its initial run on ABC from 1969-74, the modest television show starring Florence Henderson and Robert Reed went on to become a cult phenomenon in reruns, spawning numerous reincarnations of the squeaky-clean Brady clan in television movies, spin-off series and a campy stage production.

So, on this Brady anniversary, it is perhaps fitting to examine the history of one of the San Fernando Valley's most quietly famous landmarks: the split-level suburban home in Studio City immortalized by the half-hour program.

In the spring of 1969, as crews were preparing to shoot the show's first episodes for a fall debut, the call went out for a suitable Brady dwelling.

Louise Weddington Carson was newly widowed, living alone in the two-bedroom house that Luther B. Carson had designed and built for the couple 10 years earlier on a sprawling Valley lot. Construction of the Ventura Freeway had forced them from their previous home.

It was the house's middle-class appearance that attracted the show's producers when they came around asking to make it the residence of Mike and Carol Brady, their six kids and Alice the housekeeper, recalled Carson's son, Guy Weddington McCreary.

"It just had a good look to it," he said. "It symbolized California living."

Series creator Sherwood Schwartz agrees.

"We didn't want it to be too affluent, we didn't want it to be too blue-collar," he said. "We wanted it to look like it would fit a place an architect would live."

There was just one problem: The real house was only a modest split level while the interior set already under construction on Paramount Studios' Stage 5 in Hollywood was that of a roomy two-story structure.

But Hollywood set designers came to the rescue, attaching a phony window atop Carson's house to give the appearance of a full second floor.

McCreary doesn't remember how much his mother--who died earlier this month--was paid for the use of her home, but it wasn't very much, he said.

The beige, ranch-style house first appeared in the series' second episode, aired on Oct. 3, 1969, and in all of the 115 episodes that followed. Viewers saw the house from a variety of angles during each show, usually as a vehicle for taking viewers inside the home, but all the clips were filmed before the series' debut and recycled throughout its five-year run.

McCreary, who was by then attending college away from home, said that although he didn't often find time to catch glimpses of his family's home along with the prime-time antics of the Bradys, his mother did watch the show. And, he recalled, she didn't mind the house's fame, even when it meant strangers stopping by to gawk at it.

In February, 1973, during the show's fourth season, the widowed Carson found the house too large and sold it to Violet and George McCallister.

*

After 21 years in the famous home, Violet McCallister--now a widow--has become reticent about revealing her address, fearing an increase in the number of fans and tour buses that still visit her quiet street from time to time.

Most fans are respectful of her privacy, McCallister said, although the looky-loos trespassing to peek into the Bradys' living room--which existed only on a Paramount sound stage--caused her to build a fence around the front yard a few years ago.

Although their home became one of the most recognizable dwellings in the world, McCallister said that she and her husband never regretted their purchase--or their association with the series. "It was a good family show," she said.

Riding on the wave of nostalgia ushered in by the ratings success of the 1988 television movie "A Very Brady Christmas," Paramount returned to McCallister's house in 1990 to shoot a new set of exteriors for "The Bradys," a short-lived dramatic series on CBS that reunited most of the original cast. One episode involved the Bradys moving their home across town when freeway construction threatened the neighborhood, an eerie echo of the reason the real house was built.

Although "The Bradys" provided a contemporary look at the house, Paramount chose not to use it for a movie based on "The Brady Bunch" that was filmed this past summer. With the front-yard fence and 25 years of tree and shrub growth, it no longer resembled the home viewers might remember from the original series.

The producers also needed two homes with adjacent driveways--which was not the case at McCallister's house--because much of the movie's plot involves the relationship between the Bradys and their scheming next-door neighbors, the Ditmeyers.

Aided by photographs and measurements of McCallister's house, location manager Mike Neale and his crew built a facade of the Brady dwelling around the home of an Encino couple for an undisclosed five-figure sum. It wasn't an identical copy, but "close enough that when you saw it you'd think it was," he said.

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